We Want to Breathe
Protests against racial oppression have erupted yet again in the United States and around the world, following the recent cold-blooded murder of George Floyd at the hands of the criminal justice system. Millions of protestors of all nationalities have marched in cities worldwide to demand an end to systemic racism and the continuous hunting and lynching of African-Americans, the latest in a seemingly endless cycle of murders of Black people in North America.
Their inhuman conditions associated with slavery have continued many generations later, through periods of the KKK, Jim Crow laws, the struggle for voting rights, race riots in the 1940s,1950s, 1960s, and 1970s and beyond. The pandemic of institutionalized and systemic racism in housing, in education, in opportunity, in employment, in communities – in life – has never stopped. The trauma and tension of being Black in that environment is constant. You are shot first, guilty first. The inquiry can come later; the police officer, the agent of their aggression, is confident that the system will protect the perpetrator.
The Canadian experience for many African-Canadians has been similar: experiencing the constant tension with law enforcement, who practice discrimination like the colour of your skin is a death sentence. Police officers are empowered to “card” young men regularly. Pockets of violent racist groups like the Soldiers of Odin flourish in our provinces. Families of Oklahomans running from US Jim Crow laws were initially blocked from entering Canada despite their qualifications. In Alberta, they were banished off to Amber Valley. Police in Regina were called recently for a young Black teacher entering his own parked car. Complaints of discrimination in employment, education and social services are widespread.
Public outcry is for all human beings to be treated as equal, to pay attention to the systemic issues highlighted by the recent spate of murders, to renew the Social Contract that demands all citizens to be treated equally. We just want to breathe.
Donna Coombs-Montrose, the writer, is a founding member (1999) and current board member of ALHI.